Although Maria Bamford has been working for years, Hollywood has never fully recognized her genius. That might be changing with the launch of Lady Dynamite, Bamford’s new, Mitchell Hurwitz-created series on Netflix. Inspired in part by Bamford’s battle with mental illness, Lady Dynamite is a strong and creative take on self-parody. The A.V. Club’s own Joshua Alston says that it sets “itself apart from peers by being as skewed and scatterbrained as the woman portrayed in it.” Hailed by critics, Bamford’s performance in Lady Dynamite is self-assured and introspective, and fans of her stand-up, which has touched on everything from pugs to her own “unwanted thoughts syndrome,” will find their favorite comedian in fine form, doing her own thing, standards of normalcy be damned.
Bamford was kind enough to share a list with The A.V. Club of what makes her laugh, from farting to menswear-designing dogs.
The A.V. Club: The first thing on your list is babies.
Maria Bamford: It’s been a more recent thing that I’ve found babies really funny. Partly because my husband voices babies as they’re going past us in public areas. So he’ll have the kids talking, saying things like, “Goddamn it, get away from me. I’m in my princess dress.” He has some funny things to say: “I’m a king! Go away!” They’re just very sassy things that I didn’t realize babies were saying. “Ma, I shit my pants. Clean it up.” I didn’t realize how full a life they were having because usually they don’t speak that much, but I can now hear what they are saying through my husband.
AVC: They seem to be having pretty grumpy lives.
MB: Yeah. “Give me a cookie.” “Who are you?!”
I’m not doing his impersonations justice. I feel bad because they’re wonderful. He also does them for dogs and kitties. They’re also in that same vein of grumpy. All the babies and doggies and kitties are grumpy. And sassy. Grumpy and sassy and kind of elegant.
It’s created a whole new world for me. I had no idea that cats owned houses. When we see a cat outside a house, my husband will say, “That’s my house. Yeah, I just bought it.” Cats are the new flippers, and I know there’s a lot of gentrification going on in our neighborhood—of which I’m sure we are considered a part of—but nobody talks about cats buying up land.
AVC: I always ask my dog why he doesn’t have any money or a job.
MB: One of our dogs is a nurse. Actually, I guess Betty is sort of a mother figure. She’s sort of like my mom. She takes care of business, and she’s just kind of interested in everything. Our last pug, Bert, was a menswear designer and a detective. Arnold, I’m not sure. I think he may just be the house husband of Betty because Betty is so… She loops her leg around his head and forces him into cunnilingus—which we call the cherry-picker move.
We went to the pug rescue, and we meant to just get one, but then we got two because they were a bonded pair, and we didn’t realized they had this sex life going until we got home. As soon as they hit the hardwood floor at home, they were just totally on it sexually. Before that they were just sweet, sweet innocents. And then… hardcore. Hardcore.
Scott [Marvel Cassidy, Bamford’s husband] says Betty has tried to lift a leg around his head if he’s been lying on the couch, and that is just… Anyway, we’re not putting it under the rug. There’s a lack of safety in our house right now.
AVC: You also have “animals” on your list. Is it just home-owning cats and your dogs or all animals?
MB: Now that I think about it, I realize it is my husband voicing those animals.
AVC: You also had him on your list.
MB: Yeah, I think it’s a combination-type thing. One of my friends or family members has to be doing something regarding the animal.
Once my friend Amy made me turn my car around. She was like, “Hurry, hurry! Turn the car around. Hurry, hurry.” And I didn’t know what she wanted to go see, but we went and saw it, and it was a dog that had perfectly fit itself into a windowsill. It was a big dog in a small windowsill. And that was really funny and very satisfying. She didn’t do a voice for it, but I think I have to have the personal connection plus the animal being there.
AVC: You need to see it in space.
MB: Of course. If somebody goes, “This is a picture of my fluffy thing,” you have to go further. You have to go deeper than that. What is Mr. Stardust’s primary interest in life? What does he like to eat? Fisherman’s Catch? Interesting. Or Salmon Stream? What’s his occupation? Oh, he’s a banker. They’re always fancy jobs.
AVC: Everyone has to do something.
MB: Credit unions are sort of better. I don’t know. Probably cats are in charge of banks, too. I haven’t asked my husband, but I’m sure it’s cats that are in charge of banks.
AVC: Dogs would give money away willy-nilly, but cats are more restrained.
MB: Yeah, they wouldn’t roll over on their bellies too quickly.
I think it’s because it’s simpler. There are some things that are just so wonderful to look at. Like, I watched the Bill Burr thing where he gets heckled in Philadelphia for about 30 minutes on stage, which is a delightful thing if you haven’t seen it. It’s wonderful. I hope to become a Bill Burr someday, to become that strong of a comic, but until then I’m just going to set my sights a little lower. On squirrels, the antics of a squirrel… I don’t know.
Sometimes it’s hard to relax when I watch comedy, because I compare myself to other people, which isn’t funny—or maybe it is. I don’t know.
Family and friends
AVC: You have family and friends on your list. Not only do you think your family and friends are funny, but your fans think your family and friends are funny, because of the way you talk about them.
MB: I think it’s because it reminds them of something their friends and family did. It’s not because of my family.
My dad writes these letters that I can barely read, and they’re also poetry because he doesn’t use connective language within. He uses a lot of nouns and then no verbs, and then he’ll occasionally draw a picture that’s also difficult to decipher, so that’s really fun. I know I’ve become more and more like him as I get older. Like, I will talk about something, and there won’t be any sentence structure to it. It will just be words… adjective, noun, and then I’ll lose track of where the sentence was, and I’ll just drift off. I hope it’s not early-stage Alzheimer’s. I hope it’s just me letting go of standards.
AVC: The older I get, the more I feel that people should know what I mean without me having to explain.
MB: Yes! You get where I’m going with this in general. I’m trying to express myself, alright?
That’s hilarious. That’s funny.
That would be a good game show. You finish the sentences of people and see if you can guess what it’s going to be based on the first three words they’re going to talk about. That’d probably turn out to be racist, whatever it would be. It would end up racist, sexist, and any number of horrible things, guessing what people were going to say.
Farting and dancing, both separately and together
AVC: How do farting and dancing relate?
MB: My husband and I, we’re a year in, so we are really in the bloom of the honeymoon where we keep learning new things about each other. He always has a new dance that he’s coming up with. It’s a private dance, so if I were to say “Oh, Scott, do that dance for our new friend!” He would say, “What dance?” And that’s kind of what makes it special. I found it frustrating at first, and then I realized, “Oh, no, this is for me. It’s only for me.”
And then farting… Have you ever sat on a giant whoopee cushion? If you haven’t, it’s very satisfying. It usually breaks after two uses because of the delicate nature of whoopee cushion rubber. And usually how long it sat in a magic shop will affect how sturdy it is. Maybe if it was fresh out of the factory it wouldn’t break after two uses, but it’s really fun. And democratic. Because it happens to everybody, as far as I know.
My husband’s father, who has passed—god rest Bruce’s soul—hated farts. He broke a record of Mr. Bill Cosby who—perhaps he had foresight—but he broke the Bill Cosby album in two because he went into a fart joke at the end of the album.
We’ve broken the cycle in our family, I think, in that now we’re fully fart-affirmative. I just heard a fart coming from the other room, and I think it was my husband. I think it was a fake one, just for the purposes of helping this interview out, because he wants to help. That’s what he’s about.
AVC: Are there farts that are unfunny? Or are they across-the-board funny?
MB: I love that show Getting On, and I think I’m in the second season now where the ongoing thing is that the doctor, Jenna, has fecal leakage. And I’m sure, just like anything, in that moment there is humiliation and shame. But always in retrospect those things can be sort of funny.
Sarah Silverman had a wonderful joke that I feel like is a new joke but it might not be. But she has a wonderful joke that I heard recently that was about her sister and how her sister was so drunk that she had to crawl to her bathroom and started vomiting up everything she had drank. As she was vomiting, she felt someone pulling her shorts down behind her. This was in a college dorm room, so she was like, “Oh my god, am I going to be raped?” And then she realized she was just filling her pants with diarrhea, and that the diarrhea was pulling her pants down.
Anyway, Sarah Silverman delivers it with much more panache. But that was very funny to hear about. And I’m sure the cleanup on that—I’ve cleaned up human feces, as a job, in a nursing facility. Not so funny. But in retrospect, when I think back on one of the clients screaming at me, “I shit on the carpet. Clean it up!,” that’s pretty funny. I was not amused at the time, though. I felt bummed.
AVC: It’s funny in hindsight. Maybe it’ll be funny when we’re that age. Or maybe it’ll be horrible.
MB: I was very young, and I didn’t realize how there is a certain pride in having a scentless foot-long fecal rope just pile up like a snow cone. There’s some sense of the urgency in it and dignity. There’s also needing the recognition of, like, look what I did. And I didn’t give that to that woman many years ago, but looking back on it now? Wow. Wow.